An epic Polish painting of the Astronomer Copernicus at the National Gallery next year

Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) is one of the greats from my youth. Understanding the solar system was well established by the time I went to school, so it was hardly pioneering science anymore. But understanding the history of how people like Copernicus and Galileo took their investigations away from the flat earth centric zealots of the time – now that was fun!

The National Gallery will exhibit a painting by the great Polish artist, Jan Matejko, Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God, in London next year from 25th March until 27th June. This will be a terrific opportunity to see this great painting with its Polish connections as it very rarely leaves the New College Gallery at Jagiellonium University in Krakow.

Nicolas Copernicus, conversation with God, Krakow, jan Matejko
Jan Matejko, Astonomer Copernicus or Conversation with God, 1873, 225 cm x 315 cm, Krakow

The epic oil painting is huge at 225 cm x 315 cm. it depicts the astronomer observing the heavens from a balcony with Frombork Cathedral in the background. The epiphany of Copernicus finally establishing the heliotropic nature of the solar system (suggested of course by Ptolemy a thousand years earlier) is portrayed brilliantly by Matejko’s play of light in the dawn scene.

Jan Matejko, The Union of Lublin, Krakow, oil painting, national Gallery London
Jan Matejko, The Union of Lublin, 1869, 298 cm x 512 cm, Lublin Museum, Poland.

Jan Matejko (1838-1893) was one of Poland’s most renowned artists. He painted many large dramatic scenes associated with his country’s rich history. These include huge canvases such as the Union of Lublin (1869) and the Battle of Grunwald (1878). 

Jan Matejko, The Battle of Grunwald, oli painting, Warsaw, national Gallery London
Jan Matejko, The Battle of Grunwald, 1878, 426 cm x 987 cm, the National Museum, Warsaw.

The Exhibition will also be displaying a 1543 copy of Copernicus’s ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’; the publication that marked a turning point in human understanding of our place in the universe.

Copernicus’s ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’
Copernicus’s ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’ 1543.

I like these smaller focussed exhibitions as they are less intense than the “blockbusters” and allow a little more time to contemplate the art without being jostled by the spectators!

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